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by Michael Christianson
Last week members of the public were able to lend their voices, ask questions and add comments at the Public Consultation Meeting for the OPP Costing Proposal Review held at the Centre.
On the stage to answer questions were representatives from the city including city Treasurer Steven Landsdell-Roll, CAO Roger Nesbitt as well as Dryden Police Service (DPS) Chief Doug Palson, representatives from MNP who prepared the report and members of the OPP including Staff Sergeant Edward Chwastyk.
After opening remarks and retelling of the MNP report the public was allowed to approach the microphone.
The first question of the night belonged to Ray Gardner who asked what the cost of policing was in Dryden to which Palson replied that it hovers around $4 million plus capital, which averages around $65 thousand. Gardner went on to add that the DPS is a part of this community and he doesn’t want to lose it. Chwastyk replied that many members of the Dryden OPP detachment are community members.
“I looked some time ago at our officers and 18 of our officers in the OPP are from this community, their pictures are on the high school wall,” said Chwastyk. “70% of our OPP detachment actually has very deep roots here whether married into the family or they’ve been here for a considerable amount of time; they coach hockey, they teach fitness, they participate in all community events. One of our staff today did a tally and said 11 of our OPP members that work here were born here. So I would say that our roots as OPP officers are very deep here as well.”
Tom Riley was next to speak as a member of the public; he said he had spent some time looking over the MNP document and that he had spoken to friends across the region but still feels overwhelmed by the report. He said there was no mention of provincial offence fines collection and through municipal bylaw enforcement asking if it was in the document. Landsdell-Roll intervened that those fines and revenues are a separate city department that is not part of the DPS. Riley added that DPS helps to create a community identity that he doesn’t want to lose. He asked whether the model looked at the level of service calls, for example a barking dog that DPS may respond to but OPP may not. The reply to this question was that they were only focused on overall calls for service not the underlying factor for each call.
Michelle Williams raised concerns about number of officers in the OPP and the region they would be responsible for. The current area is 66 square km for DPS and 16,000 square km for the OPP proposal. The OPP response was that there would be 3-4 officers in Dryden routinely. Williams also mentioned that Kenora OPP is experiencing a hiring shortage to which the OPP replied that they changed their application process in January which has caused applications to increase and that Dryden is a desirable posting for officers and that most officers in the area don’t leave until retirement. Chwastyk said there are currently eight constables and one sergeant on the wait list to be stationed here.
Former Dryden mayor Craig Nuttal raised concerns about where the money would be coming from, Landsdell-Roll said that would be a council decision but he is looking at all outcomes. Nuttal asked if there are grants available from the government for this to which he was told there are not. Landsdell-Roll said they cannot borrow for this so the initital costs would be coming out of reserves. When asked what the general operating costs would be Landsdell-Roll said they would need to restructure their debt.
“I think you know that municipalities are having a tough time and there’s no money available for this stuff, and for us to go ahead with this now when we have a good police force, we don’t have any problems with the police force,” said Nuttal. “When Kenora went OPP they had a tell of a time, they had a bad police force, and I talked to the mayor of Kenora and he said they had to go to OPP, we don’t have to go to OPP, we can stick with what we got and still have the mutual agreement that we have with OPP which is great but anytime we have to call in special units now it’s an additional cost where now we don’t have to pay for that. So I think the mayor and council should really look at this seriously; I know in my term I wondered about looking at police costing until I talked to the mayor of Fort Frances and he said ‘that’s the worst thing we ever did’ thank you.”
Colleen Oliphant reiterated what Chief Palson had said earlier in the evening that the DPS is a gem, she asked the OPP what they could give the city that is better than what they have now. Chwastyk was clear that the OPP was not there to compete, they were there as part of the OPP costing the city requested.
President of the Dryden Police Senior Officers Association Ann Tkachyk reiterated that the DPS has a steady budget, is not mismanaged and has had a decrease in expenditures since 2013.
“The cost projections that you sight in your report and in your presentations are based on an OPP costing tool that was provided to you,” said Tkachyk. “Did you utilize any of the current municipal FIR reports, past trends, reasonable or typical expenditures for municipal policing, cost of living expenses and trends regarding pay increase for similar police services while attempting to use this analysis or did you just strictly use the OPP tool to project our Dryden police service budget?”
The MNP response was that their scope as just against the OPP.
Local Business Owner and Former Councillor Justice Leschied stated that he has trust in council but he said the final decision should rest on the citizens of Dryden as was promised at the candidates meeting. When he as told council would vote on the matter he said that was not the commitment made by the members who sit on council today.
From there more questions were raised for clarification regarding the current OPP building which they replied that they believe the building can handle the increase.
It was also stated it is too soon to know what would be done with the current DPS building should the